BURGESS EVERETT-- POLITICO
With Congress poised to take up a bipartisan bill the White House fears could scuttle its delicate nuclear framework with Iran, Senate Democrats on Wednesday sought to modify the legislation to assuage President Barack Obama’s concerns.
Democrats are hoping that Republicans will agree to their suggested changes to the measure that would give Congress review power over the nuclear agreement — and the GOP’s pursuit of a veto-proof majority in favor of the legislation may depend on it.
One proposed alteration would remove a requirement that the Obama administration certify that Iran isn’t directly involved in sponsoring terrorism attacks against the United States. Another would shorten — or potentially eliminate — a provision in the bill that would bar the president from lifting legislative sanctions while Congress reviews the bill for 60 days, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The proposed modifications stemmed from administration officials who have been contacting senators in both parties to explain their opposition to the legislation, which was written by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and would give Congress an avenue to reject the nuclear framework after reviewing the agreement. Publicly, the White House is standing by its veto threat, but with support for the measure nearing a veto-proof majority in the Senate, administration officials are also hoping to alter the bill in a way they can live with.
Corker’s committee is scheduled to vote on the legislation Tuesday, and the bill appears increasingly likely to move to the Senate floor in the coming weeks.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has filed an amendment removing the terrorism certification language and has spoken to Corker about incorporating it. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) filed an amendment that would give the president the power to lift congressional sanctions during the review period if that’s what the final deal requires, and another similar to Coons’s measure that would also allow Congress the ability to increase sanctions on Iran if it supports terrorist activities.
Democrats are hoping to strike a deal with Corker to alter his bill, which they noted was written more than a month before the nuclear framework was announced last week. But others, like Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) simply want Corker to hit the brakes and delay his committee vote; she called congressional action now a “reckless rush to judgment” on Wednesday afternoon.
As the new ranking member on the committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is spearheading the effort to alter the bill in a manner that is more palatable to the White House, a sharp departure from the hawkish stance of indicted Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who is on hiatus as the panel’s top Democrat but still serves on the committee.
“I want to make sure whatever review process we put in place is consistent with the terms” of the Iran framework, Cardin said in an interview late last week. He has not signed on to Corker’s bill but has expressed openness to it.
Corker said he is planning to have an open amendment process when his panel convenes to vote on his legislation. The measure was developed with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and is sponsored by a growing bipartisan group of senators that wants Congress to have the ability to reject the lifting of Iranian sanctions, a linchpin of the deal. Both Corker and Kaine argue that their bill is written to move in tandem with ongoing negotiations on the final technical agreement, not blow them up.
“The Corker bill does not tank or collapse the negotiations at all,” Kaine said in an interview this week. “I’m not proposing it because I don’t want diplomacy to work.”